The Death of Traditional Publishers? Part 7: OTHER Editorial Tasks & The Author’s Responsibility to Their Customers

Writers should already know that they cannot expect a publisher’s editor to extensively line-edit their works, as editors did decades ago. And we already know that a good number of traditionally published books – all of which were professionally edited and produced – aren’t of particularly high quality. E-pubs tend to drop the bar even lower, sad to say.

It makes me want to pitch books across the room. In my pre-Kindle days, I waited 6 months from release until a friend’s e-book went to print. POD print, that is. I paid WAY too much ($28) for a copy from Amazon, but I wanted to be supportive. When I read the book, I realized that I never want my name associated with that (large & successful) e-publisher. The plot was a copy of a best-seller and the editing was horrific.

My last blog guest made it perfectly clear that an author can not successfully edit their own work. So what’s a new author to do? ESPECIALLY a new author striking out on their own?

Let’s assume your manuscript is completed and you have combed through it many times already. You have critique partners – other writers – who have evaluated your plot and characters, plus their goals, motivations and conflicts. Your grammar, punctuation and spelling have been checked. You think it’s finally in good enough shape to put it “out there.” How can you get it ready for print?

The answer, in my humble opinion, is to:

1. Print 3-4 copies in the form the book will ultimately take.

I learned when publishing my “Primer for Beginning Authors” that it does no good to proof a book that is not in book form. Wasted effort.

2. Recruit a battery of beta-readers.

I ordered 4 copies of my debut novel – “A Woman of Choice” – and gave it to 4 friends to read. (They cost $5.05 each – comparable in cost to printing the 103,000-word manuscript at Office Max.)

When they found a mistake, they were to mark it, dog-ear the page, then keep going. Mistakes could take any form: typos, scene breaks that fell at an awkward spot on the page, action descriptions that didn’t make sense, etc.

When I got the books back, 25% of the pages had mistakes on them – in a manuscript that I thought was clean. And here’s the kicker: they all found DIFFERENT mistakes!

3. Do it again.

I tweaked the cover, adjusted lines on the pages so the scene breaks didn’t overlap the top or bottom of a page, fixed every skipped or repeated word, adjusted the font size to be more pleasing, clarified actions described.

Then I ordered 4 more copies. 4 different friends got the fixed copies.

And they came back with 10% of the pages dog-eared, marked with mistakes that were missed in the first round. And again, they all found different ones. *sigh*

4. Do it yet again.

Ditto on the changes. But this time I only ordered 2 copies. And they went to 2 different friends.

But I already spotted 2 mistakes myself. Really? REALLY??

5. Do it again, for hopefully the LAST time.

I have 2 more friends waiting in the wings for Round Four.

Does this process take time? Yes. Is it worth it? You bet it is! I don’t want my books to look shoddy either in print or on e-pub. I don’t want to give anyone reason to say, “You can totally tell she published this herself.”

I am setting about building a readership. I respect those who spend their money to take a chance on me and my stories. I want to give them the best experience possible, whether the book is electronically, independently or traditionally published. Even if they only paid $2.99 for the e-book.

Because I’m in this for the long haul.

And the long haul demands that I go the extra mile. That my books are extensively proofed. That I listen to critique. That I give 100% effort to creating a quality product.

I wish all publishers felt as strongly about this as I do. Then I could stop throwing books across the room.

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9 Responses to “The Death of Traditional Publishers? Part 7: OTHER Editorial Tasks & The Author’s Responsibility to Their Customers”


  1. 1 Pat Brown 06/07/2010 at 12:32 PM

    Are you saying the books should be printed the size of a trade paperback or hard cover? Both sides? Where do you get that done for $5.05?

    It sounds like a wonderful idea but I can’t believe you can do so few copies for so little.

    • 2 kristualla 06/07/2010 at 6:27 PM

      My novels are paperbacks, 5.25″ x 8″ – the size I chose, which is “trade” size. I print them through Create Space. They are 330-340 pages each. The font is Times New Roman size 10.5 …

      They are $5.05 each, my cost, no matter how many or how few. Shipping on a batch of four was $4 and change.

      Hard copies for genre books are no longer the norm. Only the best sellers get them anymore because they are too dang expensive to make/ship/return/destroy.

      Kris 🙂

  2. 3 Paisley Kirkpatrick 06/07/2010 at 2:04 PM

    It’s amazing how your mind’s eye can see what it expects, not what it sees. I ran a fan club for thirteen years and published fifty newsletters. I always proofed the pages, the printer proofed the pages, and so on. The one BIG lesson I learned was how the eyes see what they expect was after a newsletter went out my partner’s husband who had a limited time in school looked at the cover and asked me what is a scapbook? Horrified I looked at the cover and there it was – I never saw it wasn’t scrapbook and nobody who got the newsletter said a word. I have wondered for years if they just didn’t see it or didn’t want to say how careless I had been.

    I think you are genius how you edit the finished books. Good for you and I will not forget this great way to edit. Thank you.

  3. 5 americaneditor 06/08/2010 at 6:35 AM

    Kris,

    A couple of comments. First, there are publishers who still pay for quality editing, but largely in the scholarly world. Margins are too slim in genre publishing.

    Second, any editing results in line editing. It is impossible, at least in my experience, to edit and not read word by word, line by line. I think what you are really referring to is developmental editing, not line editing. The developmental editor looks at the big picture, not the narrow world of line editing (see my article “Editor, Editor, Everywhere an Editor” at http://tinyurl.com/24gyy48; you might also want to search my An American Editor blog filtering by the tag Professional Editor for other articles).

    Third, I think your process is great and that every book should go through such a system. But it is not a substitute for professional editing; rather, it is a complement. Professional editors, that is, those with experience, have invested years learning and mastering their trade and have knowledge that cannot be gotten just by being a reader.

    I think the biggest mistake that the first-time author makes is not to invest in their book by hiring professionals to go over their manuscript. It is and should be a learning experience that will help both the current book and the followup book.

  4. 7 Donna Hatch 06/08/2010 at 12:39 PM

    I know what you mean, Kris! My editor does what she calls pre-galleys after we’ve done all our edits/revisions and sends it to me. I print it and proof it, plus I have 4 to 5 readers do the same. We all find different mistakes. Then we go to galleys and I do the same thing all over again with different readers. Again, we all find new and different typos. Then it goes to print. When I get an email saying “gee, I loved your book but there were a few typos in it” I just want to bang my head on the wall.

    My best is advice is: do what you can to catch all the typos, then never eve re-read one of your books that have been published or you’ll cringe because by then, it’s too late!

    • 8 kristualla 06/08/2010 at 8:59 PM

      Diana Gabaldon spent a whole section of her “Outlandish Companion” pointing out the mistakes in her first 4 books; not sure I’d go that far! 🙂

  5. 9 Frankie Robertson 06/08/2010 at 3:01 PM

    This is excellent advice.

    I recently had an email conversation with another author about the benefit of traditional publishers as gatekeepers/filters of “not ready for prime time” books. They can certainly perform that function (though they also seem to filter out books that ARE ready but just don’t fit into their box). Their copy-editing process doesn’t seem to be as thorough as yours, however. (I just saw a NY pubbed book that had a word repeated three times in the first two paragraphs. Argh!)

    Self-pubbing may be quicker than the traditional route, but it’s not easier, not if you do it right!


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